The three keys to having effective communication in your startup
Discover if your communication is as good as you think it is.
One of the company’s most significant challenges is creating an environment that allows employees to communicate effectively. Lost messages, unread emails, vague ideas, poor execution, and misuse of resources (human or monetary) are just some of the consequences of not having strong and effective communication in your team.
It is not that companies are unaware of this. It is common to hear employees say there is a lot of miscommunication in the companies they work for. Many complain as other teams do not seem to get their ideas, and they find it hard to reach agreements since they have the sensation that they are not being heard.
Even after long work sessions, from which everyone leaves thinking, “Wow, that was a great session, we surely achieved a lot,” employees later realize that the idea that they left with and the agreements they thought they had reached were not as real as they felt they had been.
But why does this happen? Is there any way in which companies can avoid having all these communication issues and move forward as a team? There is certainly not a magic formula for this. It is a combination between culture, leadership, and the effective use of communication channels.
Your company's culture is the DNA of your communication
Founders need to start their startup keeping in mind that the culture they cultivate at the beginning will impact how people will behave in the future. In other words, a company's culture is rooted in its DNA, transmitted and transformed by everyone who collaborates with it. However, understanding culture can sometimes be challenging, especially when it is unclear what elements impact its construction.
Culture can be defined as a set of shared unwritten, implicit rules and understandings shared by a specific community. This exact definition applies to a small setting as a company, and it permeates everything, from the language and the actions taken by the CEO to the specific attitudes employees adopt while in contact with other employees. All in all, we are talking about the way people behave, and this, of course, includes the way people communicate.
Every team needs to consider and work on three fundamental elements of culture:
Company’s Values: refer to the principles that guide the team's morale and actions.
Company’s Purpose: the reason it exists and its benefits to users.
Company's Strategy: the way things are going to be done
These three elements should be at the core of the company's discourse, keeping in mind and reminding the team to always consider the company's values, purpose, and strategy as enablers to act under the company's expectations. Consider it a framework of communication and action that leads employees in every quest they have.
The problem of communication revolves around these three elements. First, within the company's values, there should be clear expectations on communication practices. Some companies opt for having straightforward communication that enables them to share honest and direct feedback amongst employees. Other companies prefer a less direct approach to communication, asking their employees to be careful with their language and the things they share in specific situations. For this reason, it is advisable to start working on communication policies from the definition of the values.
The purpose is both a channel of communication and a message. It is a channel because it embodies the company's values in the benefit it brings to the users, and it is a message encoded in every action taken by the team. In the end, it is the reason that supports the decisions and behaviors of the people that collaborate in the organization.
“The broad scope of our mission allows Google to move forward by steering with a compass rather than a speedometer. While there are always disagreements the underlying shared belief in this mission unites most Googlers. It provided a touchstone for keeping the culture strong, even as we grew from dozens of people to tens of thousands.”— Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock
Finally, the strategy impacts communication; depending on how things should be done, there will be a right way to communicate between employees or third parties. The strategy is also a framework for communication.
It can be easy to assume that the mere definition of the purpose, strategy, and company principles is enough. Nevertheless, these should be present in how the team experiences the organization. The values should be clear in how people approach challenges, determine what to do in specific situations, and be exemplified by the founders and leaders helping shape the company's culture. Having this set of principles presented to new hires every time there is an onboarding session won't make them part of how people behave and communicate.
An Available, helpful, honest, and humble team of leaders
“When employees trust the leadership, they become brand ambassadors and in turn cause progressive change in their families, society, and environment. The return on investment to business is automatic, with greater productivity, business growth, and inspired customers.”— Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock
One key aspect of having a company is placing the right people in the right roles. The people selected for leadership roles should embody the company's principles, purpose, and strategy. The founder, the CEO, and other C-level executives must choose the people who will transmit the essence of the company's culture. But one thing should be clear, when hiring a person for a leadership role, the company is hiring someone who needs to be an example for the entire organization, even if this person is not their direct manager.
In this way, leaders should be available to support and help break conflicts in communication. They should be in different conversations to help the teams reach agreements and move forward. They should be available for the team to support them and help them solve their problems. No matter the leader's position, it is their responsibility to transmit the company's values, purpose, and strategy through their actions.
Another relevant aspect of leadership is the person's usefulness in the role. The leader is part of the team and is called to support the work of each individual by solving doubts, clarifying the purpose of what is being done, evangelizing the company's principles, and helping shape the strategy. A leader can be seen as a bridge of communication and one that ensures that all the team is aligned to achieve the company's goals.
Leaders are called to be honest, not just honest when it is about giving feedback to employees, honest about themselves, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Honesty is a fundamental part of communication, and it helps the team be relaxed and have psychological safety when assuming mistakes or looking for new ways to do things. However, it is the responsibility of the leaders to promote this honesty and support the team in building the confidence to communicate it to others.
The last trait that is going to help in the building of effective communication is the one of having humble leaders. Here we are talking about people who can give and receive feedback being humble enough to assume when they can improve. Humble leaders are the ones who are not afraid of talking to people who are below their rank and guide them in the pursuit of personal growth. You need leaders who know that their responsibility goes beyond the mere act of leading their team but leading the whole organization.
We say a “team” of leaders because communication depends significantly on the capacity of your leaders to work as a team. There are so many companies in which the leadership team shows the rest of the company great difficulties in aligning and working together. These differences and misalignments only generate issues for the teams underneath. Therefore, teamwork and effective communication with leaders is fundamental to building an aligned company.
Effective Communication Channels
Selecting the proper communication channels for your company can become a mess. Initially, email may seem the best way to get along and move forward with your team. As time goes by, founders start selecting other tools that might help keep the communication flowing, selecting applications that allow their teams to chat, video conference, design, send messages, etc.
However, official channels should help the team centralize communications and have a “single source of truth,” it shouldn't be because they want to start using trendy apps that look cool. After all, each channel should have an objective in the company’s communication, which must be clear for the entire company.
There should be a channel where important communications are shared and received by the whole team and another where discussions can take place with openness and productivity. And you must make them all a place where all employees feel included and talked to.
It's essential to set which channels are for synchronous communication and which ones are for asynchronous communication (Slack, Discord, Zoom, Meets, or emails), as well as expected answer times for each of them, so everyone is aligned on how to use them and accomplish their main objectives in the communication of the company.
We have seen many companies where the communications between teams are handled through some sort of chat application, whereas the communication from the leaders is mainly shared through email. This lack of clarity on where to find communications make it hard for employees to keep track of important messages and issues.
In addition, keeping a centralized channel allows the C-level executives and other leaders to establish a channel of close communication between the employees and collaborators.
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